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America’s Town Meeting Of The Air – NBC – February 3, 1938 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Democracy. What did it mean in 1938? We were fractured and divided and we had much to be divided over. We had a growing threat from Nazi Germany. There were grumblings of Communist subversion in Washington – we were growing intolerant of the racial climate. We were afraid the Middle class would be eradicated and there be only two classes; rich and poor. We were still struck hard by the Depression. And even though we were slowly digging ourselves out, there were people who felt we weren’t digging fast enough. There were others who felt we were digging too fast and that Washington was in dire danger of turning into a Communist State. And even others felt we were in danger of becoming a Nazi state. Facism was becoming a popular political ideology in 1930s America. The American Nazi Party was alive and well and gathering constituents. And so was the American Communist Party as was the American Socialist Labor Party. Splinter groups perhaps – but their numbers were growing and the voices of discontent were getting louder.
And so when the popular discussion/debate program America’s Town Meeting Of The Air ran a segment in 1939 entitled What Does Democracy Mean? It was pretty much guaranteed to be an incendiary event – and it didn’t disappoint.
On the panel were George V. Denny Jr., moderator – Salvador Maderiaga, Spanish delegate to the League Of Nations. Clarence Hathaway, Communist Party of America. Issac Don Levine, staunch anti-Communist. Max Lerner, editor of The Nation Magazine and Dr. Ruth Alexander.
The first half of the program was devoted to opening statements and a discussion among the panel members. And the second half was given over to audience questions – and it’s here where the fireworks get started.
It’s interesting to consider that the divisions in America were just as prevalent in the 1930s as they are today and that tensions running very high has been a constant in our national discourse. It’s also interesting to consider this was considered to be one of the first Talk-Radio shows, which the networks had no faith in initially but as we’ve seen, have become synonymous with life in America over 80 years later.
Interesting stuff and a subject which is just as relevant today it was in 1938.